Darlene Van Tiem, CPT, CPLP, is associate professor emeritus,
performance improvement and instructional design, University of
Michigan Dearborn, and is on the faculty of Capella University. She
was formerly training director at AT&T Yellow Pages (Midwest)
and curriculum manager for General Motors Technical Training. Van
Tiem is immediate past-president of ISPI and lead author of two
award-winning ISPI books: Fundamentals of Performance
Technology (second edition) and Performance Improvement
Interventions. She has published more than 50 journal articles
and presented more than 50 juried presentations.
Q. Thinking back to all the stages of your career in human
performance improvement, what were the biggest challenges you faced
as a novice, an intermediate practitioner, and then as an expert in
the field and how did you overcome those challenges?
A. As a novice, my first challenges stemmed from lack of
experience, which limited my ability to apply what I learned in
college. Every day was new and different. I watched my colleagues
and discussed situations with them, particularly over lunch. It was
a look, listen, and learn situation.
As I obtained more education, including a PhD and MSA in business,
again, I learned to apply my education and experience to new
situations. Performance improvement means many, varied assignments.
I became very active in ASTD at the local and national level as
president of the Greater Detroit chapter when it was more than 750
chapter members and chair of the technical and skills practice area
when ASTD national was developing what became their annual
technical conference (ASTD TechKnowledge 2012). ASTD led me
to experts in the field and their comments, praise, and
recommendations were terrific learning opportunities.
Professional association also provided credibility.
Then, I became recognized as an expert as I became more active in
ISPI. By that time, I was publishing articles regularly in
Performance Improvement Quarterly as well as ASTD
Links on a monthly basis. Two books for which I was lead
author provided insight becauseJim Moseley, Joan Dessinger, and I
would challenge each other to consider and stretch our insight. By
that time, I was associate professor atUniversity of
MichiganDearborn and now on the faculty atCapellaUniversity (since
I retired from UM-D). Now, I learn from students research and as I
publish, and I am privileged to associate with some of the most
respected leaders in our field.
Q. You have been involved greatly in both ASTD and ISPI
over your career. How did you make the most out of your
professional society affiliations to help you advance your
A. Professional associations are a wonderful place to learn and
grow. It is possible to learn leadership skills because there is no
pay incentive to participate. All leadership is indirect, and
therefore, it is essential to keep volunteers engaged. They gotta
wanna, to paraphrase Robert F. Mager. Professional associations
require project management, leadership, communication, motivation,
focus, plus knowledge of the field. It is important to keep the
vision of the best of our field and continuously move in the
direction of the best.
Q. During your career as a professor teaching HPI, what
lessons did you learn from your students (perhaps inadvertently)
and how did that affect your career?
A. Right now, I am on the faculty atCapellaUniversity. My main role
is chairing 17 dissertations, and I am on about 10 dissertation
committees. I see my role as collaborator in their research. I
recommend new ways of looking at ideas and I search when there
seems to be a dead-end situation. It is also a huge job of indirect
leadership. I cannot do the work for the student; however,
dissertations are huge efforts. I need to provide insight while
making sure that students do not lose heart by believing that they
are overwhelmed. Of course, I send them articles that I come across
online to spur their thinking. Since I am so close to the experts
in our field, I usually send something from one of my colleagues so
the students feel engaged with the best in the field.
Q. As an accomplished writer in our field, what is the best
advice you can give others in regards to writing and publishing to
share knowledge with your colleagues and clients?
A. This is an important question! When publishing, the writer
cannot focus on the content first. The writers first allegiance is
to the reader. I visualize my reader. Then, as I write, I test my
paragraphs to be sure that the reader could understand what I said,
would not be bored, and remain engaged. I try to use interesting
language. That is not to say that content is not the most important
factor. But content that is not read is not very helpful.
As for content, write in terms of new ideas and then link them with
current ideas in new ways. For example, Moseley, Dessinger, and I
are writing the third edition of Fundamentals of Performance
Improvement to be published by Pfeiffer. We worked on the
revised model for more than nine months. As we wrote, it became
clear that something wasnt working the way we wanted. Or we came
across a new idea that needed to be added. We kept field testing
our model with leaders in our field. We determined the impact we
wanted our book to have and kept field testing and refining until
we got to that point. Field testing is an important part of
writing. Ask people not in the performance improvement field to
read your writing and then ask them what they think they read. If
they are not interested, then you probably need to revise to engage
Q. What is the most important thing you have learned that
helps you to continuously enhance your leadership
A. I guess it is to be responsive to people. When someone emails me
regarding something of interest I always try to respond within a
week or two if not an hour or two. When someone in professional
leadership or at headquarters asks for information, I quickly
research and get back to them. I guess being a servant leader is
most effective. I also ask my expert colleagues for insight to keep
my brain alert and to not assume that I know something. For
example, one of the most interesting people I know is Roger
Addison. Roger was a high school kid when B.F. Skinner, Tom
Gilbert, Donald T. Tosti, Geary Rummler, Dale Brethower, Mager, Joe
Harless, and the rest of the gang were learning to write programmed
instruction. After school, Roger would trouble shoot their programs
to make sure that everything worked. As a result, he can tell
stories about the early days of performance improvement. Also, when
I read or hear history, I often email Roger to be sure of the
accuracy. Connecting, communicating, and responding seem to be
Q. In general, what or who has been the biggest influence
in your life and how did it affect your career?
A. I think that every dissertation of a doctoral student who is
married thanks their spouse first. Now, while writing this third
edition and chairing dissertations, it is clearly Phil, my husband
since 1964, who is the greatest influence. We balance time for
retirement with time for my performance improvement activities.
My students have been motivating. Students ask questions. They tell
you things and then you see ideas in a new light. I believe it was
Anna in the King of Siam (The King and I) who said that the teacher
learns more than the students. It is a great experience to
collaborate with students on articles for professional publication.
Finally, my colleagues are a huge influence. I learn at faculty
discussions, faculty collaboration on projects, and particularly at
annual professional conferences. Preparing presentations, informal
networking, participating in sessions, and hearing key note
speeches keep me sharp and eager to continue.
We are all very blessed in our field. It is exciting work and we
can make a difference in the lives of individuals. Jeanne
Farrington, Roger Kaufman, and others wrote an article and then
Brethower followed up based on the concept that we can save the
world. We are in a profession that realizes the opportunity to make
a big difference in the workplace or the world. Each of us has the
power of one but our field provides the insight to affect the